Interview by Mohamed Ghazala

1-why Pierre Hebert is different ?

Fundamentally, I am different just like anybody is different. But it is true that my standing in the world of animation is quite special. Not many people know me, I think, and for those who heard my name, I probably sound like a strange outsider. I generally don’t follow much of the rules that are usually considered as the criteria of good animation. I am very attached to the idea of animation but I don’t think many animation films live up to what the idea of animation is, to its importance. So I don’t feel very comfortable in the world of animation and I guess this is why I do all those things where I use animation outside the usual field of animation. I am not always sure that I was right to follow that road. It may be a presumptuous attitude. My work is seen by quite a number of people, especially the performance work I do, but it is always in different contexts, different types of music scenes, visual arts contexts, new media contexts, I am always an outsider everywhere and I sometime feel isolated.

2-why you chosen Animation as a main way to express your art ?

I choose animation by accident. I was supposed to become an archeologist and things did not work out as they should have and I found a student job at the National Film Board of Canada and I stayed there 34 years. I started in the wake of the big animation renewal after WW2. Cinema as a whole was experiencing big changes. I was in a group of young filmmakers and I chose animation because I knew how to draw, because I went to meet Norman McLaren and he explained to me how to scratch directly on film. There was a whole set of positive circumstances. The gap between live action cinema and animation was not as deep as it became later on. There was also a good connection between animation and experimental cinema. Those were all things that I liked but they all progressively vanished and animation became more of an artistic ghetto. This is the way I felt it. So for myself, I wanted to continue to consider animation as a part of cinema as a whole and as a part of experimental cinema because this is how I discovered it and adopted it. But sometimes I feel that I choose animation by mistake.

3-what is the difference in the direct animation techniques to make you choose it ?

I came to animation through the direct technique of scratching directly on film as I learned it from Norman McLaren and Len Lye. So from the start my relationship to animation was essentially a relationship with direct techniques. For myself, I cannot conceive another way of being an animator. I like direct techniques, and more particularly the direct technique of scratching directly on film, because it is very physical, because it is very crude both in term of graphics and it term of continuity (the flow of time), also because it is a delinquent technique, it is a sort of challenge thrown at the face of the legitimate technology of cinema. It is very critical in all the meanings of the word and it puts the artist in a critical situation. There is an element of danger to it. This is probably because of this that it was quite natural for me to try do live animation performances. Doing performances of animation brings all those aspects of direct techniques to a point of paroxysm, to their more extreme development. I like to practice animation as an extreme form of art, I like to think of it as the sharpest point of cinema.

4- how you start to plan you art pieces (films,clips, installations ,performances )?

I never really worked from storyboards, just once or twice I think. Not more. I try to approach the development of my pieces as if I was a writer, diving into the flow of time as it comes and see what happens, or as if I was a dancer who find the shape of its work through improvising. So there is not real planning ahead of time. My work is more organized around approaching a problem from all sides in a physical way rather than around telling a story. I was very lucky to work at the National Film board of Canada because it was possible there to maintain this approach. In the industry, this is absolutely impossible. Now that I am an independent artist (for the last ten years), I do this more radically than ever before. Most of the time when I start something, I have no idea what the outcome is going to be, if it will lead to a performance, an installation or a film…or nothing…or stuff to write about. My last film, Triptych, started as studio performances that I was doing just by myself, not in front of a public in order to test an new way of setting up my performance software. I got caught by it and started to do a new performance everyday, which I was recording. So I was accumulating a lot of material that I found interesting but I did not know what to do with it. The film arose from working on the problem of how was it ever possible to compose something out of all those improvisations. Not an easy problem actually which raised many question that I considered fundamental. So while I was trying to find a practical solution more for the sake of experimenting – I was not at all sure that there would be an actual film – I started to write to describe my process. At one point, I realised that suddenly a film had appeared and I also found myself in the process of actually writing a book about it, which lead to a performance project called Animation Exercise which I started to do publicly, which also lead to reintroducing scratched animation along with computer processed live animation in my performances, etc and so on. Mind you, this is probably the most radical experiment I ever did in my creative life. This is the ideal way of working for me.

5-The Animation performances, how hard or how easy is it? What is the future of performance of animation in your opinion? Live animation performances are difficult because they contradict all the reasonable ways of doing animation. Everything goes to fast for the kind of activity animation is, even with a lot of experience, you are constantly threatened to be out of control. This is not a natural thing to do. To do it you have to be really obsessed by the question of what you are going to find if everything goes too fast and you loose control. It is like jumping through a window not knowing which floor you’re on. There is also the aspect of confronting the technology, of creating a strong adverse relationship with the machines. I find this important because «relating to machines» is probably one of the most important problem mankind is facing. So there is an ethical dimension in putting yourself on stage displaying such a confrontation. This is the way I see it. There is a lot of live cinema performance going on (the development of technology made all of this much easier) but most of the time (like vj’s) it consists of manipulating already existing clips or automatically generating moving images through algorithms. I don’t know of many other people doing it the way I do it, i.e. creating the flow of images with my hands at the same time I am processing it. This is very extreme, it has a meaning for me to do it, I resent it as a necessity, but since it is so extreme, I don’t think we can say there is a future to it. It is sufficient for me to say that it has a meaning in the present moment.